I’m often amazed at the raw pure connection to the outdoors enjoyed by many of my friends and co-workers. When the temperature drops and the ice begins to form, it doesn’t signal the end to spending time hunting and fishing. It’s just a transition.
One of those transitions taking place now is the wait for darkhouse spearfishing. That season no longer has a specific opening date, so you can start spearing whenever you can find safe ice on which to set up a darkhouse.
Some spearers got an early start this year, but warmer weather the last half of November sort of slowed the prospecting.
It’s been nearly 20 years since darkhouse spearfishing for northern pike became legal in North Dakota. The numbers show that people are taking advantage of the expanded opportunities for winter outdoor recreation.
Here’s a recap on darkhouse spearfishing in North Dakota from the 2018-19 season, based on information gathered in a postseason survey.
-- 4,374 individuals registered -- 2,992 residents and 1,392 nonresidents. The spearers harvested an estimated 17,642 northern pike.
-- The average spearer was 46.7 years old, and 88% were male.
-- 71% of those who registered actually participated.
-- 68% of survey respondents indicated they also fished in open water, and 73% also ice-fished.
-- Spearing occurred on 81 water bodies last winter, down from 104 waters in 2017-18. Devils Lake topped the list for pike harvest for the third year in a row. Devils Lake and Sakakawea received the majority of the spearfishing pressure.
-- 3.5% speared a rough fish.
-- Median and mean weights of the largest pike reported harvested by respondents were 6.0 and 7.8 pounds respectively, which was lower than in most recent years.
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-- Also, fewer spearers reporting harvesting pike of 20 pounds or larger compared to previous years.
Other darkhouse spearfishing information
All individuals who participate in darkhouse spearfishing must first register online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov. In addition, anglers age 16 and older must possess a valid fishing license. Anglers under age 16 do not need a fishing license, but they still must register.
Spearers and anglers are reminded that materials used to mark holes must be in possession as soon as a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is made in the ice.
North Dakota residents who do not have a fishing license may spear during the winter free fishing weekend Dec. 28-29, but they still need to register to spear.
All waters open to hook-and-line fishing are open to darkhouse spearing, except:
-- East Park Lake, West Park Lake, Lake Audubon -- McLean County
-- Heckers Lake -- Sheridan County
-- Larimore Dam -- Grand Forks County
-- McClusky Canal
-- New Johns Lake -- Burleigh County
-- Red Willow Lake -- Griggs County
-- Wood Lake -- Benson County
Anglers and spearers should refer to the current North Dakota Fishing Guide for more information.
Doug Leier is a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.